by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest column for the Martin Center focuses on the flawed work of a Duke history professor.
Last year, Duke University History Professor Nancy MacLean became one of the country’s best-known academics for her book Democracy in Chains. That is not, however, to say that her book was so praiseworthy that it made her famous. Quite the opposite—Democracy in Chains was excoriated by academic critics for its blatantly dishonest attack on the thinking and indeed the character of the late James M. Buchanan, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics.
MacLean sought to depict Buchanan as a closet racist whose intellectual breakthrough of what is now called “public choice” theory was actually meant to help segregationists ward off the integration of public schools in the South. While her conclusions were embraced by most leftists because they cast such an ugly shadow over the intellectual opponents of big government, scholars who have actually read Buchanan objectively and many who knew him (he died in 2013) blasted the book with salvo after salvo of careful criticism. …
… A characteristic of a true scholar is that he or she listens to criticism. True scholars seek truth and when others point out errors, they acknowledge their mistakes. In fact, true scholars are glad when their mistakes are revealed because they do not want to foment erroneous beliefs. …
… Ever since the publication of Democracy in Chains, MacLean has been surrounded by criticism that her impugning of Buchanan’s motives, as well as those of everyone who argues in favor of limited government, was far out of bounds. Nevertheless, it is clear that she has paid little or no attention to that criticism. Recently she doubled down on her attack by declaring in front of an audience that people who embrace libertarianism must be lacking in human feelings.